The things we create to serve us often become the most unrelenting tyrants. Designed to empower us with the promise of greater choice and productivity, technology often leaves us feeling powerless. Our smartphones daily outsmart us. Automated customer service can chat with us about every question we don’t need answered, while ruthlessly blocking us from speaking with any real human. The great promise of personal empowerment often comes with a profound sense of powerlessness. Perhaps this is why we love superhero stories.
The best superheroes appeal to us, because most days they are ordinary people just like us. They have their struggles, their weaknesses, and their tragic backstories. But they have something else. Something that, when put on, eaten, or spoken, turns them from victim to victor and empowers them to save the world. As a boy, I was not a big fan of Marvel comics, but I did like Popeye. Popeye endured a lot of abuse at the hands of Bluto, but when the chips were down and Olive Oyl was in grave danger, Popeye rose to the moment through the transformative power of canned spinach.
But why spinach? Apparently, in 1870, Erich von Wolf, a German chemist, examined the amount of iron within spinach. In recording his findings, he accidentally misplaced a decimal point, changing the iron content in spinach by an order of magnitude. While there are actually only 3.5 milligrams of iron in a 100-gram serving of spinach, the accepted fact became 35 milligrams. Once this incorrect number was printed, spinach’s nutritional value became legendary as a proto-superfood. So, when Popeye was created, studio executives recommended he eat spinach for his strength, due to its vaunted health properties. Apparently, Popeye helped increase American consumption of spinach by a third!
Spinach is indeed a superfood, but it cannot empower us face failure, discouragement, and even death with courage and conviction. For that, something far more powerful is needed –encouragement. Every Christian believer has the unbreakable promises of reconciliation with God, eternal life and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, but the enemy of our soul is a crafty worm who masterfully speaks into our deepest self-doubt and fear with the only lie he knows – “Did God really say?” But God uses the work and words of encouragers in our lives to break the hold Satan’s lie has over us. This is why we are commanded to “encourage one another and build each other up.”
As the Apostle Paul nears the end of his life, he writes a final letter to his son in the faith, Timothy. His first letter was filled with instructions about how to order life in the Christian community, the Church. But this second letter is one of personal encouragement for a young man facing setbacks in his ministry. The word encouragement means literally to “infuse with courage.” And this is exactly what Paul does. He speaks tenderly, yet boldly into the life of his young friend, reminding him that he is not alone, that there is a bigger picture than his circumstances, and that God has given him all the gifts he needs to serve faithfully and effectively. Spinach is a superfood, but encouragement is empowerment. Who is your encourager? And who are you encouraging?
Join us this Lord’s Day, February 17, as we begin our study of 2 Timothy and consider our calling to be encouragers. We meet from 5:00 – 6:30 pm in The Commons at St. Andrews Anglican Church at 8300 Kanis Rd in Little Rock. Click here for directions. Come with a friend and join us for fellowship and worship. We look forward to seeing you there.